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Brazil Cultural Unity and Diversity

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Cultural Unity and Diversity in Brazil

Cultural Unity and Diversity

Brazilian culture was never monolithic. Since the sixteenth century, it has been an amalgamation of traditional Iberian, indigenous, and African values, as well as more recent Western values, developed in northern Europe and the United States, such as equality, democracy, efficiency, and individual rights. At times there are subtle or open conflicts, especially between norms of Mediterranean and Anglo-Saxon origin, or between practices of European versus Amerindian or African origin. However, Brazil is remarkable for the way in which there is unity in cultural diversity. Sometimes the values and practices of different origins have blended with each other, as in the case of Afro-Brazilian religious syncretism or liberation theology (see Glossary).

Another way of reconciling diversity has been the often considerable distance between actual practices, which conform with tradition, and official norms, which generally follow the positivist (positivism--see Glossary) logic of "order and progress" that underlay the establishment of the republic in 1889. The difference between norms and behavior, or between theory and practice, is a constant throughout Brazilian history. In colonial times and during the empire, imported cultural values and social norms had to be reconciled with the extenuating circumstances and realities of a frontier situation. Getting married officially, for example, was difficult in the absence of priests or because of the high cost of service by the justices of the peace.

In the 1990s, many people ignore laws that are not enforced, or allege that doing the right thing would be fine but that they lack the condições (conditions). The aphorism that sums up a common attitude about doing one's duty is, "Ninguém é de ferro " (No one is made of iron). The relaxed attitude is reinforced by the fact that laws or norms are often seen as having been imposed from the outside, rather than being the result of a social contract established for the common good. Thus, Brazilians, who are known for pragmatism, have become adept at living with idealistic rules, on the one hand, and actual practices that are often quite divergent, on the other. They switch easily between different cultural codes ranging from "traditional" values, such as machismo and paternalism, to "modern" values and social norms that favor women and equality.

Data as of April 1997



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